(Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part series about Sun Valley Resort's 75th Anniversary. Click for Part I)
Sun Valley Resort cemented its place in the history books by becoming the first major ski resort in the U.S. and installing the world's first chairlifts. But it also lays claim to many other firsts.
"The amount of firsts that Sun Valley brought to winter recreation is notable," Shannon Besoyan, archivist for the resort, told OnTheSnow. "It's not just the first major resort, but the first chairlift, first outdoor ice rink, one of the first Austrian ski schools in U.S., and much more." It may have even been one of the first resorts to give a free season pass to employees, a concept that gave birth to the ski bum.
The resort was the first to hire professional ski patrollers. Three pro patrollers were employed during its first season, each receiving room and board plus a small stipend for tending to injuries and doing maintenance.
Sun Valley hosted one of the first International ski races in the U.S. in 1937. The Harriman Cup became a series of prestigious races that ran for 40 years. During the first three years, they were held annually in the Boulder Mountains north of town, where skiers hiked 3.5 hours up the hill for a five-minute run on the downhill course. Day two held slalom races, with the cup awarded to the combined winner. The race moved to Warm Springs in 1940, several decades before chairlifts ran up that side of Baldy.
Local girl Gretchen Fraser outdid U.S. male racers to be the first American skier to win an Olympic gold medal in 1948. She is immortalized on a Seattle Ridge run called Gretchen's Gold.
Freestyle skiing gained its first major foothold in 1965 at Sun Valley with a mogul and jump "hot-dog" style pioneered by Bob Burns. "The first competition on Exhibition Run put freestyle skiing on the map," said Besoyan. Freestyle was officially added to international competitions in 1979 in an effort to regulate dangerous tricks.
Sun Valley spawned many ski greats in its 75 seasons, including Warren Miller, its most famous son. He moved to Sun Valley with a movie camera in 1946-47, living out of a trailer in the parking lot for two winters.
"At the time, I was shooting 8mm film...so we could learn what we were doing wrong with our skiing," Miller told us. He showed his ski movies to his summer surfing friends in California, perhaps first discovering the marketability of ski movies. "They laughed and had a great time," said Miller. "I got a free tuna casserole dinner for showing it to them."
He spent his third winter sleeping indoors in the Ski Instructor's Chalet and teaching first timers how to balance on moving boards. "I carried on my belt [the 8-mm camera] all winter in order to get pretty art shots and yes, shots of people falling down," said Miller. A stroke of luck during a ski week put him as a dinner companion with the president of Bell and Howell, who agreed to loan him a 16-mm camera. It arrived two weeks later in leather box with red velveteen lining.
Some of the earliest 16-mm footage Miller shot at Sun Valley was the 1951 Harriman Cup, which appeared in his second movie Wandering Skis. "I learned you better be up early and first in the lift line, or the day and the good snow will be gone before you get much done," he said. "Sun Valley offered some pretty spectacular footage and another growing customer base for sponsoring my movies until I quit doing it 55 years later." Miller chronicles his Sun Valley years in his longtime best-selling paperback, Wine, Women, Warren and Skis, still available today.
But Miller summed up the impact Sun Valley had on him, by saying, "Sun Valley occupied a fairly prominent spot in almost every movie I ever made about skiing."
More information: Sun Valley: An Extraordinary History by Wendolyn Spencer Holland; Gretchen's Gold: The Story of Gretchen Fraser, America's First Gold Medalist in Olympic Skiing by Luanne Pfeifer; Wine, Women, Warren and Skis by Warren Miller; Sun Valley Serenade, 1941 movie starring Sonja Henie, John Payne, Glenn Miller, and Milton Berle.
Do you have a spare 10 minutes for a laugh or three? Check out this video of the classic "I Love Lucy" television show when Lucy and Ethel head to Sun Valley, meet actor Fernando Lamas on Baldy and plot to make Ricky jealous: